by Marc McAuley, Counter Fraud Manager, CIPFA
The digital age has brought incredible new opportunities to reach our citizens in new and exciting ways, with greater access to services online and people more directly connected to government. However, it has also allowed for new and evolving forms of fraud to take hold. One in six of all estimated crime in England in the year ending March 2018 was fraud committed online, according to the Public Accounts Committee report on the growing threat of online fraud.
Significant efforts are being made to tackle these new pervasive forms of fraud against government, however, progress can be difficult. We found in our latest Counter Fraud and Corruption Tracker (CFaCT) report that there was an increase in the number of frauds detected or prevented – up to 80,000, at a total of £302million. But in truth this represents only a fraction of the fraud committed, as estimates put the cost to the taxpayer in the billions.
As more government services move online, the risks of fraud only increases and the challenges for government in tackling these issues become greater. But just as there are new opportunities for fraudsters, there are new opportunities for investigators to disrupt these activities.
One great example can be seen in the UK with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which has begun to use artificial intelligence (AI) to drive a crackdown on benefit fraud. With algorithms to flag suspicious claims to human investigators, they are seeking to make an impact on the nearly £3.6billion made in benefit overpayments in 2016 to 2017. In the past over 87 per cent of cases were closed following reports by members of the public without sufficient evidence to substantiate a claim.
CIPFA is also contributing to this technological evolution with the soon-to-be-launched London Counter Fraud Hub, which brings together a new focus on fraud for the London Boroughs. With the hub there will be a greater ability to make use of the combined intelligence and data of these authorities, and ensure the taxpayer pound is being used as intended.
This adds to the CIPFA Counter Fraud Centre’s existing offerings of support and resources, training and events, and alerts. It’s worth noting that while technology will be crucial to the fight against fraud, it must be accompanied with a strong-counter fraud culture in our organisations, and investment in the skills our people need to identify and prevent fraud in all its forms.
Fraud is never a victimless crime. It is important that every person in the organisation takes steps to tackle this scourge. In the public sector, this will mean more resources for our communities, and the people who need our help most.